By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart

As excitement builds on campus in preparation for next week’s solar eclipse, SUNY Broome students Elle Yatsuk and Sasha Zalesski are leading the way as designated NASA Partner Solar Eclipse Ambassadors. While millions of people have only recently joined in on the hype surrounding Monday’s Solar Eclipse, these Liberal Arts and Sciences: Science: A.S. students have spent the last two years researching and educating the community about the magnitude of this potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Drawn to astronomy and physics, both Yatsuk and Zalesski spend their free time at the Kopernik Observatory & Science Center, where they spread their love of astronomy with the community through hands-on presentations about the universe. 

For Sasha Zalesski, her love of space started very early in her life, thanks in part to her cultural heritage. “My mom came from the Soviet Union, where space was a large part of the culture. My grandfather even worked on rockets,” shared Zalesski. “As a result, I was raised with the knowledge of and appreciation for the beauty of our universe. It is so vast, and yet we know very little about it.” Sasha began interning at the Kopernik Observatory & Science Center while still a high school student at Seton Catholic Central. Now, she works for the observatory as an educator. 

Elle Yatsuk’s passion for astronomy came via exposure to the subject through an elective course with Professor Andrew Glenn. “Professor Glenn was explaining the science behind a supernova,” explained Yatsuk. “I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the lifecycle of a star and realized that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I went from being a psychology student to studying physics. Now I’m crunching numbers at 2:00 a.m.” Professor Glenn connected Elle to the Observatory, where she works as an intern. 

Both students were nominated to become NASA Partner Solar Eclipse Ambassadors. As Ambassadors, they are encouraged to engage with the general public to promote safe, educational viewing of the eclipse. 

During the eclipse, Elle and Sasha plan to travel to the path of totality to collect data on the solar corona as part of a women in STEM initiative. Their findings will be featured in an upcoming IMAX documentary on the eclipse. 

Elle and Sasha’s Tips for the Solar Eclipse

  • “Know the facts! In the Southern Tier, the partial eclipse will begin at 2:08 p.m. and will reach its maximum coverage at 3:23 p.m. Binghamton will have about 97% coverage!” 
  • “Observe the eclipse with all of your senses, not just visually. Take note of things like the temperature change and the sounds of the animals. Crickets will begin to chirp because they think it is nighttime.”
  • “Practice eclipse eye safety. Do not look directly at the sun! Instead, you can safely view the solar eclipse through ISO 12312-2 international standard-approved eclipse glasses or indirectly through pinhole projection with the sun behind you. Regular sunglasses are not approved eclipse glasses! Also, do not look at the sun through a camera lens, telescope, or binoculars. This could cause major damage to your eyes.” 
  • “Wear sunscreen! We know to protect our eyes but often forget that we also need to protect our skin.”
  • “If you plan to travel to the path of totality, make your plans early.” 
  • “Embrace the moment! The next time we are expected to experience a solar eclipse of this magnitude will be in twenty years, and you may have to travel extensively to see it. The next time Binghamton will experience a solar eclipse with full totality is in 2079. For many, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”
  • “Come to SUNY Broome’s Solar Eclipse Viewing Party on April 8, 2024, from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.” SUNY Broome to Celebrate Eclipse with Upcoming Events | The Buzz

Elle Yatsuk and Sasha Zalesski
Photo Credit: Matt Ebbers

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